Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake
Janice Preston’s Beauchamp Betrothals series delivered happy endings for the three Beauchamp siblings – the Duke of Cheriton and his brother and sister. Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake kicks off a spin-off series that focuses on the younger generation of Beauchamps, the Beauchamp Heirs; and while it’s not absolutely necessary to have read any of the earlier books, it probably helps to have an idea of who is who, because some of the events featured in them – most notably the marriages of Lord Vernon and Lady Cecily – are referred to in this book, even though they take place off the page.
Eighteen-year-old Lady Olivia is the only daughter of Leo, Duke of Cheriton, and his first wife. She is enjoying her first Season, and as the daughter of a wealthy and influential peer she has the world at her feet and an adoring coterie of young bucks in tow wherever she goes. To the outward observer, it seems she has everything, but Olivia is struggling to find her place within her family and to adapt to her father’s recent remarriage. She’s happy for him and likes her stepmother, but she’s been plagued by feelings of inadequacy all her life, her mother’s obvious disinterest in her children making Olivia wonder, deep down, if there’s something about her that is unlovable. Over the years, the love of her close-knit family – especially her aunt Cecily (Lady Cecily and the Mysterious Mr. Gray) who has been a mother to her – has gone a long way towards suppressing those doubts but Olivia can’t quite rid herself of them, especially given the changes going on around her.
Olivia is getting just a bit tired of all the very proper balls and parties she attends and inveigles her brother Alex into taking her to Vauxhall Gardens one evening. Masked and heavily cloaked, she is anticipating an evening of fun and excitement – and before long, she, Alex and his friend , Neville Wolfe, are invited to join a supper party, formed mostly of an older (and faster) set than the ladies and gentlemen she usually associates with. Neville points out that these people aren’t really fit company for Olivia, but Alex is intent on spending time with a lovely, seductive widow who has caught his eye, and accepts the invitation.
Among the party is the disreputable and devilishly handsome Lord Hugo Alastair, a gentleman Olivia knows by sight but to whom she has never been introduced. She knows he’s exactly the sort of man her Aunt Cecily would warn her about, but she can’t help the frisson of attraction she feels whenever he looks her way. When Alex disappears with his widow, the party starts to break up and Olivia – who is by now rather tipsy – is goaded into playing picquet with Lord Clevedon. When she loses, she panics, and offers her late mother’s ruby necklace as security for her debt, promising to meet with Clevedon at the end of the week to redeem it.
Lord Hugo’s scandalous reputation is well-deserved, but he’s become tired of that lifestyle over the past year or so and is determined to leave it behind. When Clevedon – who has recognised Olivia in spite of her being masked – confides to Hugo that he intends to find a way to compromise her into marriage, Hugo is disgusted; an emotion compounded when Clevedon also tells him that another of their set has plans to ruin Alex as a way of taking revenge on Alex’s father for something that happened years earlier. When Hugo sees Olivia being accosted by a group of young men, he intervenes and escorts her home; feeling guilty at the fact he’d encouraged her to play with Clevedon, he offers to help Olivia to redeem her mother’s necklace, and also says he will help to keep an eye on Alex. He’s a little bewildered by his willingness to involve himself in the Beauchamp’s affairs – and tells himself it’s because Alex reminds him of himself at that age, and the idea of his being used to punish his father is abhorrent. As for Lady Olivia… well, his attraction to her is inconvenient, but he knows there is no way he would ever be considered a suitable acquaintance and is determined to do the right thing and avoid coming into contact with her where possible.
The fact that Lady Olivia has other ideas is going to wreak havoc on his good intentions.
Ms. Preston does an excellent job of setting up the storylines which bring Hugo into the lives of the Beauchamp family, and she presents him as a responsible, mature young man who is ready for the next phase of his life, and who tries hard to do the right thing, no matter how difficult the circumstances. He’s a well-rounded individual who has overcome a childhood marred by a violent father, and is at last discovering the joy of having family around him whom he loves and who love him. He’s a lovely hero, but Olivia comes across as a bit of a spoiled brat for much of the story, and I couldn’t quite believe she deserved to end up with such a decent chap as Hugo. She’s cognisant of her privilege and grateful for her loving family, but her insecurities push her into doing some silly things that could have adverse effects on others besides herself, which is something I always dislike. That said, the author clearly shows why Olivia behaves as she does, and her reactions to being hurt or upset – to be dismissive, haughty or deliberately contrary – ring very true as the sorts of thing that an eighteen year-old girl would do in an attempt at self-protection.
But in spite of that, I found it hard to warm to her because she continues to make poor decisions, until a potentially disastrous event towards the end finally forces her to grow up a little; it was only in the last few chapters that I started to feel that she could make a fitting partner for Hugo. I didn’t dislike Olivia; she’s not a bad person and her concern for Alex is admirable, but her immaturity too often causes her to come across as selfish.
That’s really my only issue with the book, because the rest of it – the plot, the familial relationships, the hero and the romance – are all well written and developed. All in all, Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake is an engaging and satisfying historical romance, and I’m recommending it in spite of my reservations.